Research in the
National Interest

Harnessing innovative research at the frontiers of
science is a key to global competitiveness and economic prosperity for the
nation. With its multidisciplinary focus, LBL is an important player in a
variety of those scientific frontiers, such as biotechnology, materials
science, and environmental technology.   

In the past three years, technology transfer efforts have helped secure 80 partnerships between LBL and industry.

The crown jewels of the partnership effort are the Energy Research Laboratory Technology Transfer (ER-LTT) awards, a type of Cooperative Research and Development Agreement funded by the Office of Energy Research. The following are a few of the collaborations that have been forged through the ER-LTT program.


A $1.5 million ER-LTT partnership that uses technology from LBL's Human Genome Center may yield tools to tackle two widespread human health problems. LBL has paired with pharmaceutical giant Rhone Poulenc-Rorer Inc. to clone genes involved in diabetes and obesity.

Eddy Rubin of LBL's Life Sciences Division will attempt to pinpoint genes thought to be related to the disorders in genetically engineered mice. The two types of mice have been specially bred over many generations to display symptoms characteristic of human diabetes and obesity. The defective genes thought to be the cause of the symptoms have been mapped to regions on mouse chromosomes 4 and 6.

Rubin will attempt to cure the ailments in the diabetic and obese mice with healthy genes taken from chromosomes 4 and 6 in mice without the diseases.

Rhone Poulenc-Rorer will use the protein products from the genes to develop drugs to treat diabetes and obesity in humans.


Researcher Tony Chen prepares to test prototype cathode material in a field emission test apparatus. LBL is collaborating with SI Diamond, Inc. to develop cathode materials for use in flat-panel displays.

Computer screens that are credit card thin and use less energy are the goal of a $1 million partnership between LBL and SI Diamond, Inc. LBL's Joel Ager and a team of Materials Sciences Division investigators will help the Houston, Texas firm better understand the unique, electron-emitting material that is the basis for its flat panel computer displays.

The flat panel display market is expected to grow from $5 billion to $20 billion by the end of the decade. While the United States currently has only 5% of the flat panel display market, it has an important technological head start on market leaders such as Japan on flat-panel technology that uses "cold" cathodes. Such energy-efficient cathodes will play an important role in creating the next generation of low-power flat panel displays.

Conventional desktop displays are lit by a cathode-ray electron gun that from a distance scans an electron beam across a grid of phosphor elements many times a second. The flat panel technology being developed by SI Diamond replaces the single electron gun with an array of thousands of tiny electron sources much closer to the phosphor grid. The electron sources are known as cold cathodes because they emit electrons at much lower temperatures--and thus use a third as much energy--than conventional electron sources.

The partnership will work to understand the physical properties of a material called amorphous diamond, which is the basis for SI Diamond's special cathodes. Scientists will study ways to create the large, homogenous surfaces of amorphous diamond required for large displays.

The project will take advantage of a wide range of capabilities available at LBL, such as atomic force, scanning tunnelling, and electron microscopies, imaging Raman spectroscopy, and advanced electronic characterization.


A PET scan image shows chemical uptake in the brain of a monkey to test the effectiveness of a treatment for Parkinson's disease. The work is part of an LBL collaboration with Somatix Therapy Corporation.

LBL is putting its medical imaging technology to work in the fight against Parkinson's disease with a $2.5 million partnership with Somatix Therapy Corp. of Alameda, Calif. The collaboration will test a method for restoring levels of important brain chemicals in animals, with hopes of eventually developing a similar treatment for human Parkinson's patients. Parkinson's afflicts almost a million people in the United States.

Somatix will use genetic engineering to create fibroblast skin cells that produce the neurochemical dopamine, which is depleted in patients with Parkinson's. The altered cells will be implanted in brains of animals with the disease.

William Jagust of the Life Sciences Division's Center for Functional Imaging at LBL will use scanning techniques to study to what extent dopamine levels are restored by the fibroblasts. Positron emission tomography (PET) and single photon computed tomography (SPECT) scans will detect radiolabelled compounds injected into the animals that are specifically taken up by dopamine-producing cells.

Somatix plans to develop a way to insert genes into human cells that allows them to produce specific chemicals. Such cells could similarly be implanted in the brains of patients to restore deficiencies related to brain diseases such as Parkinson's and possibly Alzheimer's.

-- Mike Wooldridge

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